The doctor studied an X-ray of Chris Latvala’s lungs and quizzically turned to his patient.
“How long have you been a smoker?”
Latvala does not smoke. He had the coronavirus.
Latvala, a Republican state representative from Palm Harbor, arrived at Largo Medical Center on Aug. 29. By then, the infection had turned his lungs against him and a two-week internal war was underway. His whole body ached. He lost his sense of smell. He couldn’t eat. His chest felt like a truck was sitting on it. His oxygen levels plummeted.
It was, he wrote on Facebook on Sept. 4 from his hospital room, “the hardest thing I have ever faced in my life.”
Latvala left the hospital nine days later but remained quarantined at home for the rest of the month. It wasn’t until this week that Latvala ventured out in public again, a freedom he regained just as the biggest news of the 2020 presidential campaign broke.
On Friday, President Donald Trump became the most notable Florida politician — and the most famous person in the world — to announce testing positive for the coronavirus. He has since received treatment from a team of doctors at Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland and has begun a critical 48 hours of care, according to Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff.
In a Saturday interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Latvala recalled the early stages of his battle.
A doctor promised the hospital would provide the best treatment it could, but asked Latvala for one promise.
“What’s that?” Latvala responded.
“You have to promise if you get worse, you’re not going to give up.”
Latvala never lost consciousness during his his 14 days over two stints in the hospital — a blessing, he said, that allowed him to avoid darker thoughts.
For him, the hardest moments came waiting for what was next.
“The doctor tells you Day 13 and Day 14 are the worst,” Latvala said. “And you’re counting down to those days and you’re wondering, ‘What does worse feel like?’ ”
Outside Walter Reed on Saturday, Trump’s physician, Dr. James Conley, told reporters that the president was in the third day of his diagnosis and that Days 7 through 10 “are the most critical.”
Trump already had symptoms that Latvala did not experience early in his battle with the virus, such as fatigue and congestion. Trump reportedly received oxygen at the White House on Friday before he was taken by helicopter to the hospital, something Latvala didn’t need until later in his hospital stay.
Trump is being treated intravenously with remdesivir, an antiviral medication that has produced promising results. From his own experience with the drug, Latvala said he knows that it requires at least five days of hospitalization while it’s administered.
At age 74, Trump belongs to a higher-risk population than Latvala, who is 38. Like Trump, Latvala is heavyset but otherwise didn’t have any other known health problems. Trump has elevated cholesterol and made